Joking about rape to lighten the mood

Rev. Dominic Wamugunda tells a joke about rape during a sexual health conference aimed at reducing the rape rate in Kenya.

Published June 22, 2006 11:02PM (EDT)

Stop me if you've heard this joke: It is about a man who breaks into a convent and vows to rape the nuns there.

Haven't heard it? We hadn't either. Sure, we're all humorless feminists here at Broadsheet, but that isn't even funny in an off-color, politically incorrect way. Even more so considering that this was the setup for a joke told by a priest at a conference aiming to reduce the number of rapes in Kenya.

The Associated Press reports on this tactless, unfeeling blunder by the Rev. Dominic Wamugunda, who seems perplexed by the resulting controversy. "That joke came into my mind and I love a good joke," Wamugunda told the AP. "The women there were laughing." According to several women interviewed by the AP, the laughter was sparked only by nerves and unease. Wamugunda -- also dean of students at the University of Nairobi -- was giving a talk titled "Sexuality, Culture and Religion" as part of this three-day conference in Nairobi about sexual health. Of the outrage that followed, Wamugunda said: "Some women take feminism too far." And in a tactic so often employed by tasteless individuals, Wamugunda asked, "We cannot be taken to prison for telling jokes, can we?"

That Wamugunda felt no shame in telling the joke under the circumstances reveals plenty about Kenyan cultural views of rape. The lax attitude certainly has nothing to do with a low rape rate: In 2004, the number of reported rape cases in Kenya exceeded 2,800, according to the AP. Nor was this the first time that a Kenyan official has made insensitive comments about rape: Just last year, Justice Minister Kiraitu Murunai compared criticism of the fight against corruption to "raping a woman who is already willing." Then Paddy Ahenda, a lawmaker, criticized a bill to toughen sex crime punishments by saying, "In our culture, when women say 'No,' they mean 'Yes' unless it's a prostitute."

Sam Thenya, chief executive of the Nairobi Women's Hospital, told the AP that comments like Wamugunda's reveal a failure to fully process "the magnitude of the problem, the damage and trauma, for rape survivors." Patricia McFadden, a sociologist and conference attendee, told the AP: "When high-up men make statements that rape is a joke, it tells you that there is a lot of political work to be done."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

MORE FROM Tracy Clark-Flory

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Love And Sex Violence Against Women